Startup entrepreneur, the tale of frustrations never ends

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Sometimes the sky seems to be falling. It was already a late Sunday night. She, as the entrepreneur of a tiny startup in Shanghai, was still clattering on the keyboard in front of the computer, trying to finish a project before the deadline. Two years ago, she had quitted her stable yet stale job and started her own company. Though her startup has been running in a hiccup way, she feels confident, as she managed to achieve break-even in the first year and made a tiny profit in the second year. It has been fully self-funded so far, without any investors’ money to splash on SEM or fancy marketing campaign; purely relies on “word of mouth” or DIY social media posts to attract potential customers.

A beep sound from her mobile phone distracted her focus, so she absentmindedly picked it up and instantly saw a WeChat message “Boss, I want to resign. I am now giving you one month notice”.

Flabbergasted, incredulous, she then turned into a kind of fury. The message was from one of her favourite full-time employees. She has been grooming and training this girl for about a year, right from her internship. Even during the peak season of company business, she still approved her annual leave for vacation. That is why she was doing the remaining work now left by this girl. And the last thing she could ever expect from her was the “resignation” message.

Several weeks ago she just fired an intern boy who had been constantly defiant against her criticism. The boy had been received customer complaints many times but would neither admit his faults nor change his behaviour. She had no choice but to let him go. Now adding the girl was about to leave, her team size is facing the shortage problem.

The next day morning, the girl showed up and explained further her reasons, such as “the company is too far away from her home; this startup does not show much astonishing progress; the job can be too much stress sometimes…”

She took a deep breath after listening to the whining. Perhaps hoping to persuade the girl to stay, she said, “I seldom ask you to work overtime, right? I have been considerate to all your personal requests, including vacation during peak season? You have learnt quite a lot from this job, why did you say it has no prospect? Can you have a second thought on your decision, at least showing a little loyalty?”

The girl tilted her head, gave a rather insouciant smile and rebuffed, “You are paying me minimum wages and you expect loyalty from me? I have an offer now which doubles your payment…”

The girl stunned her into silence and she knew these words put their conversation into the end. Not because she could not increase her wage. An obvious justification is she does not have the sufficient budget to raise the bar. After a further calculation, she evaluated girl’s current work deliverable equals, definitely not exceeds, to her payoff. After all she was frugally sensitive to any penny she spent. 

The situation, in fact, does not make either of the two, a saint. It is just the typical drama of conflict of interests, between startup entrepreneur and her employee.

So she rang the phone of her headhunter agency for help, demanding to send her over at least 10 CVs of recent graduates or senior year students. Yes, recruiting fresh graduates, she resorted to headhunter in order to minimise the hassle of candidate selection since she does not have any HR staff inside her company. As a startup for cost saving reasons, she cannot afford to hire experienced professional. New graduate presents an ideal choice, yet with low salary package and a humble startup origin, she understands she will not be able to attract the brightest. If not the brightest, at least not the dumbest, she crossed her fingers, nevertheless she had a rather worrisome inkling.

In the next several days, she squeezed her busy schedule and conducted rounds of interviews. Haplessly her inner fear became a solid reality. She tested and talked to all candidates, but none of them she would desire to hire. She wondered how come in this most populous country, with abundant labor supply, recruiting new graduate has always been such a nuisance? It is said the 90s generation and new millennium in China often hold the devil may care, or irresponsible attitude toward the menial and low-paying jobs. She believes it does not mean every youngster, but what she has witnessed rather gave the credit for the negative conclusion.

Anyhow c’est la vie. She called the headhunter again and asked for the second batch of resumes.

Just when she thought nothing could get any worse, the back-end IT system was suddenly experiencing a severe bug trouble, causing malfunction of analytical reporting and broken links of the workflow automation. 8 months ago, she personally designed this IT system and outsourced her coder friend to implement and upgrade it. Since she already poured large sum of money into it, she was quite hesitant o hire an in-house IT maintenance support. So the irony of life is when she desperately needed someone to solve the bug issue immediately on the site,  the coder friend happened to be out of town.

She chose to calm down and began to pore over the customer reviews. Another disturbing news surfaced. Her competitor has been undercutting the price or even offering free products, therefore some of her customers started to comment that her company is comparatively too expensive. Her arch-rival company, in fact, has raised USD10 million. How is her company, self-funded, supposed to compete with such pricing strategy? Finally, she buried her face into her two hands in utter despondency. Resenting in full jealousy, she dreaded why on earth her arch-rival received funding while she still has not? she was convinced that her company provides far superior services, compared to her arch-rival.

The harsh truth is venture investment is a very network oriented business. The founder of her arch-rival is a well-connected man due to his glittering past career achievements, even rumoured to be a good friend of a famous VC god-father. That USD10 million catapulted that startup in a good position and accelerates its scale-up process rapidly, for instance already hiring 70 in-house IT professionals.

She had been actively seeking for capital injection for a while. VCs turned her down, suggesting her startup is too early stage, thus only needs seed money from Angel Investors. She met several Angels, through various introductions. Many local Angels tend to be controlling, often require at least 20% of the equity share and constant supervision on financial books and daily operation. Some simply do not look trustworthy, bragging a lot and appear too anxious for a quick return. She would rather sell her own apartment to supplement the capital rather than bringing in any devilish Angels.

Looking outside of the window, she felt the sky and everything beneath were looking like an endlessly dark, forlorn tunnel? She wondered how many small entrepreneurs out there were sharing the same feeling? Must be a lot, she told herself. How many of them eventually saw the glorious light at the other side of the tunnel. The answer she balked at thinking about.

She shook her head and quickly devoted to an urgent case for her customer. Through work, she soon pulled herself together. Upon the moment of finishing the case, a sensation of joy gushed into her mind.  She was so proud that she single-handedly launched a startup which her arch-rival needed to burn USD 10 million and hire 70 IT professionals to achieve. She was so proud when the sky always seems to be falling, she still holds her ground in every minute. She is anything but a defeatist. These compose the never ending tale of entrepreneur’s frustrations.

Cecilia Wu

A witty, nutty and frosty writer who hopes to jot down moments of inspiration from her daily life

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